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Couple’s Workshop helps Veterans strengthen Romantic Relationships

Two Veterans with their spouses
(Left to right) Danny Slater and Leah Guillory-Slater; Ana Scherman and Paul Scherman.

Prior to meeting his wife Ana, Navy Chief Petty Officer Paul Scherman (ret.) spent more than 22 months in Afghanistan during two deployments.

The couple has been married for seven years, but PTSD has put a strain on their relationship. 

“We’ve been a little rocky here and there in our marriage,” said Paul, who served 24 years as a reservist. “All my fault. I have PTSD and sometimes my communication skills are lacking.”

To strengthen their relationship, the couple decided to try Houston VA’s one-day couple’s workshop. 

The workshop, called BRAVE or ‘Building Relationships with Vitality and Engagement’ is a one time, 5–6-hour group workshop for Veterans and their romantic partners.  

“It was a very good workshop,” said Paul, who attended a virtual workshop in June. “They give you a lot of good material and put together a very nice packet which is extremely helpful because you have materials after the workshop to refer to and apply. If you’re open to using the tools and communicating, it can help your marriage.”

The workshop is offered virtually and in-person, and is led by two mental health therapists who guide the couples through activities and discussion.

“The BRAVE Couples workshop is really focused on helping Veteran couples communicate better, developing greater understanding of each other, and enhancing intimacy,” said Dr. Lilian Dindo, Associate Professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Research Health Scientist at Houston VA. “Relationship difficulties are prevalent among Veterans, and relationship distress is associated with a range of challenging issues including depression and anxiety as well as exacerbation of hopelessness. Conversely, stable relationships are a source of resilience.” 

The BRAVE couples workshops are small by design, typically four to five couples, which allows participants an opportunity to share and relate with each other, as a group. 

“We’re very human in the workshops,” said Dr. Dindo. “If you have a pulse, you will have challenges in life. It’s how you respond to these challenges and to what life throws your way that matters in the long run.”

The entire workshop is completed in one day, so it feels like a retreat where couples can just focus on each other, and the relationship, for the day. 

Ana Scherman said the workshop has helped her communicate better with Paul, and also understand him better.

“A relationship is something you have to continuously work on,” she said. “A car needs a tune-up and your relationship does too. What better way to do that than taking a workshop to reconnect.”

All Veterans Can Attend

In 2018, Houston VA began offering one-day Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) workshops for Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans in rural communities, with support from the VHA Office of Rural Health. 

Initially, VA prioritized Veterans with PTSD, anxiety and depression who faced the challenges of reintegrating into their local community following combat service. 

“The focus on the ACT workshops was to help Veterans cope with the challenges of reintegrating back into civilian society, to connect with their “new mission” after returning home, and live full and meaningful lives, even in the presence of difficult memories and emotions,” said Dr. Dindo.

The success of the ACT workshops led Veterans to refer other Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans, and eventually through word of mouth, Veterans from all eras began requesting the workshop.

“We heard from our community partners and Veterans that ‘there are Vietnam and Gulf War Veteran that want to do this along with Veterans who didn’t deploy,’” said Dr. Dindo. “We no longer have criteria for participation. Any Veteran can attend.”

In 2022, Houston VA also added the BRAVE couple’s workshop due to demand from Veterans who wanted to bring their spouse or partner.

“When we asked for feedback, something that consistently came up was Veterans asking to bring their partners,” said Dr. Dindo. “Veterans felt that the workshop allowed them to understand themselves and their experiences better, and they wanted to share this with their partner in a safe environment.” 

Last year, Army Veteran Danny Slater underwent brain surgery at Houston VA after he suffered a stroke. Unfortunately, he is no longer able to do some of the physical activities he previously did with his wife Leah, such as foreign travel.

In October, Danny and Leah attended a BRAVE couple’s workshop, hoping to learn new skills that would help them navigate the challenges of life after a stroke.

“His stroke put a lot of stress on the marriage, and I just wanted the counseling,” said Leah. “Danny had a wonderful team of doctors who performed his brain surgery and (Houston) VA has helped him tremendously. So I knew I could trust the VA.”

Leah said she enjoyed how safe she felt during the BRAVE workshop, which allowed her to share their challenges with the group.

“It’s a very welcoming and respectful space to really be open and vulnerable,” she said.

Danny, who served from 1981 to 1991 as an officer, said he enjoyed how the class not only gave them skills, but was also tailored for, and geared towards Veterans.

“Relationships can be really complicated, especially when a Veteran is part of the relationship,” he said. “There are a lot of things that come into your relationship that may not be the norm for civilians.”

Danny recommends the workshop to all Veterans.

“It was more than what I expected,” he said. “The material they send you ahead of time is thorough and professional. It was very helpful to get an idea of what to expect. I also think the two therapists did a great job facilitating the class and promoting involvement.”

Learn More

If you are interested in attending an upcoming BRAVE workshop, please contact Ken Woods at 713-440-4612 or

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